The psychologist Lewis Goldberg, working in the 1990s and building on decades of personality research in psychology, identified five underlying factors that can be used to describe a person’s personality. His model has been thoroughly tested and validated, and has been deployed by thousands of other psychologists since. It remains the prevailing theory of personality in use today.
Goldberg’s ‘Big Five’ are not traits in themselves, but rather umbrella terms that correlate with a wide range of common personality descriptors. Using just five umbrella factors keeps the model simple and practical, and reduces the amount of duplication that can occur when using large numbers of descriptors that measure more or less the same thing.
The five factors are:
- Openness to experience
An individual’s level of each of these factors can be measured using a simple questionnaire, the results of which are coded and combined to provide a score along a continuum for each dimension.
Scores in the Big Five personality factors influence rather than determine an individual’s responses or behaviours in a given situation. Introverts, for example, can behave in an extroverted way in certain situations, although this can be quite draining for them.
Personality is believed to be only partly determined by your genes, with life experiences also playing an important role. As such, an individual’s scores are not set in stone. Some dimensions exhibit a predictable shift over the course of a person’s life.
Openness to Experience
Common traits related to openness to experience include:
- Abstract thinker
- Likes variety
- Love learning
- Varied interests
Common traits related to conscientiousness include:
- Hard working
Common traits related to extroversion include:
- Socially confident
The following traits fall related to agreeableness include:
Common traits related to openness to level-headedness include:
Goldberg’s original paper:
Goldberg, L. R. 1990. An alternative “description of personality”: the big-five factor structure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1990, Vol 59, No. 6, 1216-1229.
 Also called ‘stability’ or ‘emotional stability’ or inverted to ‘neuroticism’ or ‘negative emotions’ in some studies.